Lowe Working To Turn It Around

By: T.J. Zuppe

Right-handed pitcher Derek Lowe had some issues he needed to work through in the offseason. Following a September collapse by the Braves, he had a pretty good idea it would be somewhere else.

Atlanta dealt the veteran righty to the Indians on the last day of October and from that moment, Lowe knew he would have to work even harder to improve on his disappointing season in 2011.

After all, the 38-year old hurler lost 17 games last season. He attributed his performance to one big factor when he chatted with members of the Cleveland media on conference call.

Indians Pitcher Derek Lowe

“I got in such a mechanical funk… and I couldn’t stop it,” Lowe said. “We tried to change it in a short period of time and it didn’t happen.

“You learn from what you were doing and you make sure you don’t do it again.”

He has already started working on those mechanics over the last month, making positive muscle memory a top goal in the coming months.

Lowe is ready for the challenge and is excited to pitch again for a good ballclub. He joined the Really Big Show on ESPN 850 WKNR and noted not every team can compete. That is why he is excited to join the Tribe.

One thing you do not doubt is his durability. An innings eater, Lowe regularly comes close to 200 innings and 30 starts every season.

Even though he admitted some luck is involved, the rest is no accident.

“Hard work is something that I’ve always kind of believed in,” Lowe said. “I love the game. I enjoy putting in the time. For me, its more mental. It’s putting in the time and effort to be able to make every start.

“That is the number one important thing; to be able to pitch every five days.”

One of the biggest reasons general manager Chris Antonetti invested five million dollars to add such a playoff veteran pitcher was the influence he could have on a young rotation. Headed by righties Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, the starting staff could use a back-end anchor with leadership qualities.

Lowe takes pride in that role.

“Spring training is going to be so important for everybody,” Lowe said about getting to know his new teammates, on WKNR. “I love working with young pitchers to try and advance their career, and that is what I’m going to try to do.”

Lastly, Lowe spoke highly of his new place of work.

“I feel that city is a great baseball city, Lowe said of Cleveland. “We have got to work harder to get those people back in the stadium.”

If he rebounds to win double digits, posts 200 innings and leads the team to the playoffs, he will have done his part. That should not be so hard, right?

Follow TJ on Twitter @TJZuppe


First Edition: Free Agent Target List

By: T.J. Zuppe

Indians general manager Chris Antonetti has already laid the foundation for the 2011-2012 offseason in Cleveland. On top of making a decision to decline the option on outfielder Grady Sizemore and pick up the option on pitcher Fausto Carmona, the team has already landed veteran starting pitcher Derek Lowe in a trade with the Braves.

While it is probably true that the team will only find something of impact in another trade or two, the team could stand to improve several areas by supplementing a few free-agents from the available talent pool.

Players such as first basemen Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and left-handed pitcher C.J. Wilson lead the class and will be hitting major paydays in this offseason. While the destination of those players is unlikely to be the north coast in Cleveland, it should not stop the front office from targeting some players that could really assist the club in reaching the next level, playing in October.

The following list is a group the Tribe should be putting in their cross-hairs, along with some commentary on why they make (or do not make) sense. Just with any kid at Christmas, expect several revisions to the wish list as free-agency plays out.

First baseman Carlos Pena

Carlos Pena – 1B – Chicago Cubs

It seems the writing is on the wall for incumbent Matt LaPorta. The team is looking for a significant upgrade at first. Pena’s average and strike out rate is always an issue, but his power and run production is not (28 HR – 80 RBI). He still gets on base and plays a very solid defense. With Cleveland’s abundance of ground ball pitchers, improving the glove work should be a large part of any equation. I would consider him near the top of the wish list.

Michael Cuddyer – 1B/OF – Minnesota Twins

The biggest positive for Cuddyer is the side of the plate he hits from – the right. He would provide a calming veteran presence in the clubhouse and a smart professional approach to the lineup. However, Cuddyer is probably better suited for the role of designated hitter at this point in his career.

Cody Ross – OF – San Francisco Giants

If you want to jump on him, now is the time. After lifting the Giants to a World Series championship in 2010, the right-handed hitter’s numbers hit the decline in a full year in the Giants ballpark. He is an above average defender in left field, and has displayed 15-20 home run power. I expect Ross to bounce back in 2012 and it would not be a bad thing to watch him do it in an Indians uniform.

Aramis Ramirez – 3B – Chicago Cubs

Even into the later stages of his career, the right-handed hitting Ramirez is still a feared stick. However, he stands to get a big contract on the open-market, and it would probably only make sense for the Tribe if Ramirez was moved long-term to first. Ramirez may say thanks, but no thanks to that offer. At the end of the day, he stands to make too much from a squad with money burning a hole in their pocket.

Coco Crisp – OF – Oakland A’s

That is right; the former Indians outfielder could certainly help his old team in several ways. He has lost a step in speed and with his glove, but he could provide some very good depth in the outfield. He would fill the role of a fringe starter in Cleveland but the club learned a valuable lesson last season in injuries. Getting some healthy backups and options is extremely important.

David DeJesus – OF – Oakland A’s

Probably the best example of a supplemental addition. DeJesus has much more upside than Crisp, and could be a perfect reclamation project for the Indians to pursue. At one time extremely dynamic, had an absolutely awful year in Oakland. Could be more of an everyday player, and would flourish in a platoon role. At the right price, definitely worth a shot. He fits the mold of a quiet signing that pays big dividends later.

Outfielder Josh Willingham

Josh Willingham – OF – Oakland A’s

Did I really just list the entire Athletics outfield? Yes, it happened. The only reason Willingham probably does not work in Cleveland is the amount of interest surrounding him. His power numbers were respectable in an awful park, but the average and on-base percentage dipped in 2011. More than likely, Willingham will be overpaid by a desperate organization. He is good, but not worthy of breaking the bank.

Jason Kubel – OF / DH – Minnesota Twins

Kubel probably earned himself some cash with a respectable average and solid power last year. However, it is still tough to count on the injury prone left-handed hitter in an everyday role. His defense is suspect and makes more sense in a platoon / bench role. He would provide an upgrade and the Indians did put a claim in on him in August.

Other Possibilities: Magglio Ordonez – OF – Detroit Tigers, Ryan Ludwick – OF – Pittsburgh Pirates, Reed Johnson – OF – Chicago Cubs

There are even a few more players the Tribe should kick the tires on before making any final decisions.

Keep in mind, this year’s class is not abundantly full of “difference-making” talent. The Indians should supplement free agency with trades, not simply rely on it.

Would a Pujols or Fielder signing win the press conference? Absolutely – but there is a degree or realism that must be realized.

As is usually the case with free-agency, the majority of signings somehow come back to get you. Spending just to spend on the open market will only put future financial handcuffs on the team.

Spending wisely – as always – will be the name of the game.

Anyone you think I should add? Who did I leave out? Be sure to shoot me your suggestions on Twitter!

Follow TJ on Twitter @TJZuppe

Tribe Goes “Lowe” Risk, Lands Arm

By: T.J. Zuppe

In what is shaping up to be a busy start to the Indians offseason, the Tribe fired another shot towards attempting to make the club better in 2012. The team added depth and innings to its rotation by trading for right-handed pitcher Derek Lowe from the Atlanta Braves.

Cleveland's Newest Arm - Derek Lowe

In return, Cleveland sends Atlanta Class-A minor league relief pitcher Chris Jones, but more importantly, some salary relief.

Lowe is owed 15 million dollars in 2012, which will be split between the Braves and Indians. According to several outlets, Atlanta will pick up roughly 10 million, leaving Cleveland to pay the remaining amount next season.

The 38-year old starter had a rough season last year, going 9-17 with an earned run average of 5.05. He won 16 games in 2010.

The two-time all-star brings one distinct thing with him to his new squad – innings and lots of them. Since 2002, Lowe has averaged 203 innings per season, the fewest being 182.2 in 2004.

With a rotation anchored by Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Josh Tomlin, Fausto Carmona and now Lowe, there is will be a great deal of innings eaten by the starting five – on top of a lot of ground balls to be had for the Indians’ infield.

While there are a plethora of questions regarding how much Lowe has left in the tank and what his effectiveness will be, there is little doubt that an inning-eating veteran was at the top of the club’s list this offseason.

Lowe will be asked to hold down one of the last two spots in the Indians starting staff, provide some depth in addition to provide his valuable playoff experience on a young club. That experience could prove to become the most important portion to his add.

While his performance will be indicated on the hill, the team should be commended for its savvy in picking him up. General manager Chris Antonetti gave up a former 15th-round pick in Jones, who projects more as a left-handed specialist years from now.

Also, owing Lowe five million dollars in 2011 makes him the ultimate low-risk, high-reward the Tribe should focus on. If Lowe does not pitch well next season, the team can feel good about moving in another direction quickly.

If he responds, the Indians will have a dependable horse to ride into another pennant chase, with the track record to help those young arms along that need someone to lean on.

Hard to find the negative there.

After all, it is pretty difficult to sneeze at the seven different trips to the postseason, or the career 3.21 ERA in October. Not to mention, a career 7-2 record against the Detroit Tigers, with an ERA of 1.87.

The next move is on Lowe’s shoulders to respond.

Bottom line: You truly can never have enough pitching and it appears the Tribe is adopting that slogan heading into the winter months. He will bring some veteran moxy and presence to a staff that needs it.

Follow TJ on Twitter @TJZuppe

Tribe Says No To Sizemore, Picks Up Carmona Option

By: T.J. Zuppe

June 27th, 2002 – It was on that day that then Indians general manager Mark Shapiro put his stamp on the organization by trading ace pitcher Bartolo Colon to the desperate Montreal Expos.

Flash forward to October 31st, 2011 – The day the team may have said its final goodbye to the last link to that deal.

Before the Monday deadline set by major league baseball, the Cleveland Indians declined to pick up the 8.5 million dollar option on outfielder Grady Sizemore, electing to buyout the often-injured center fielder for $500,000.

Free Agent Outfielder Grady Sizemore

This makes the 29-year old a free agent, eligible to sign with any club he desires. That could also include the Tribe, who could choose to re-sign Sizemore at a discounted rate with incentives.

Sizemore hit .224 in 2011, playing in only 71 games for the Tribe. He hit 10 home runs, while driving in 32 in 295 at bats. He also struck out 85 times and posted the second-lowest OPS of his career at .706.

After being acquired in the Colon trade from the Expos – along with infielders Brandon Phillips, Lee Stevens and pitcher Cliff Lee – Sizemore spent eight seasons with the Indians, hitting .269 in that span.

He is a three-time all-star and two-time gold glove winner in centerfield.

However, the last three years have left him injury plagued, only able to top the 100-game mark once since 2009. The one-time MVP candidate became more of a punchline recently, as he struggled to get on the field consistently.

He is expected to draw moderate interest at a smaller dollar figure per season. His services could peak intrigue from higher payrolled clubs, with more money available to take a gamble on him.

Cleveland is also not ruled out from interest, with a smaller incentive-filled deal making sense to take a flier on, providing a low-risk, high-reward situation.

Meanwhile, the club decided to exercise its seven million dollar option for 2012 on right-handed pitcher Fausto Carmona.

The 27-year old finished 2011 with a record of 7-15, with an earned run average of 5.25. It marked the fourth time in his Indians career his ERA topped five.

However, with recent Tommy John surgery done on right-hander Carlos Carrasco, and question marks surrounding the final two spots in the rotation, the club elected to keep the inning-eating Carmona, who has averaged 172 frames a season since 2007.

The team will keep an eye on other clubs around baseball, with other players being added to the free agent pool following Monday’s deadline.

Recently, designated hitter Jim Thome, pitcher Chad Durbin and outfielder Kosuke Fukudome filed for free agency.

Follow TJ on Twitter @TJZuppe

Indians Tough Decisions About To Be Made

By: T.J. Zuppe

72 hours after the final out is recorded in the 2011 World Series, the Cleveland Indians will be on the clock. In that time frame, the team will have to complete their decisions on pitcher Fausto Carmona and outfielder Grady Sizemore’s options for 2012.

A great deal has been made about the seven-million dollar option on Carmona and roughly nine-million dollar option on Sizemore the Tribe holds in their hands.

But what will be the club’s decision?

Neither one has money due in the astronomical range next season. Both actually are reasonable figures when the two reach ultimate production. But can the team count on that?

Outfielder Grady Sizemore

Sizemore hit .224 last season, with 10 home runs and 32 runs driven in. He also struck out 85 times, while not stealing a single base, an element of his game that made him dynamic in the past.

The one-time talented centerfielder has only played in 100 games or more one time in the past three years. He has not reached beyond 500 at bats since 2008.

Sure, nine-million for the Sizemore of old is a steal, but lately its been Cleveland getting swindled.

As for Carmona, 2011 was not a season to remember. The expected ace pitched more like a back-end rotational arm, putting up an earned run average above five for the fourth time in his career. He also lost a career-high 15 games.

However, with question marks in the rotation, can the team afford to let the 27-year old right-hander go?

With Carmona, the team does have another route they could take. If the club decides to not pick up the 2012 option for him, he does not simply become a free-agent like Sizemore.

Instead, he would still be in control of the Indians as an arbitration eligible player. Yet, keep in mind, the seven-million dollar figure would probably save the Tribe some cash, and would help avoid the dreaded arbitration they so desperately look to avoid.

At the end of the day, it probably makes the most sense for the Indians to say yes to Carmona.

Sizemore, on the other hand, has many glaring negatives surrounding his option. But one notch in the positive category would be his trade value.

To Cleveland, a nine million trial would be hard to swallow. However, for a team like the Yankees, Red Sox or Phillies, that figure is much easier to absorb with the hope he regains some form of his old self.

The team could decide to pick up that option and test the trade waters on a player like Sizemore. They could also see how he starts the season, before attempting to ship him off mid-year.

After all, if the Indians do let him walk away, they gain nothing in return.

We should find out within the next few days the fate of both players in Cleveland. But keep this in the back of your mind; whatever the Tribe decides may not be the final indicator of their long-term plans with the club.

Follow T.J. on twitter @TJZuppe

Indians Offseason Checklist to Contention

By: T.J. Zuppe

The Indians face many decisions in the offseason. Ranking them is almost as difficult as making those choices themselves.

Of the many moves the team will make in the upcoming months, there are some that are paramount to the team’s success in 2012. Here are several the club must consider before heading into the winter months.

6. Pick up Carmona’s option / Decline Sizemore

At seven million dollars, Fausto Carmona’s team option has more to do with logistics. The Tribe has some question marks inside the rotation, and Carmona provides innings and depth at the very least.

However, the hook on the righty has to be quick, making him pitch better or face being replaced.

As for outfielder Grady Sizemore, in no way can a near nine-million dollar option be justified by the front office. But, a reworked deal could be in the cards.

A contract full of incentives offered over a couple of years is the route to go. If Sizemore would like to explore other options, he is more than welcome to.

5. Resign Kosuke Fukudome

Indians Outfielder Kosuke Fukudome

Cleveland cannot just rely on fewer injuries next season. It is part of the game.

Fukudome has quietly been very solid for the Tribe, hitting all over the lineup, playing a steady outfield and providing some veteran stability to a young club.

He will continue to provide a consistent glove, a professional hitting approach and flexibility in the outfield if resigned.

4. Work relentlessly with younger players on defense

At times, the defense killed the Indians in ’11. Not only physical mistakes, but mental mistakes became very evident after the team roared out to a 30-15 start.

Extra outs will kill any team, especially a young one. The club must work with players like infielders Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall, as well as catcher Carlos Santana to limit those next year.

3. “Add to the pile” in the pen

To borrow a line from Browns president Mike Holmgren, adding to the pile has to be very important to the front office. To expect the bullpen bunch to be as lights out as they were this year is not fair.

Mostly, it will come from exploring the prospect-level relieving arms in the minor leagues. Those included right-handers Josh Judy, Zach Putnam and left-hander Nick Hagadone.

Adding depth, options and talent will benefit Manny Acta’s squad over a long season.

2. Go get a veteran starting arm

As the Wahoos make a push towards contention next year, they have to learn from this year. The lack of a veteran pitcher with playoff experience really emerged in the heat of a pennant chase.

It is a long season, and having a hurler with logged pressure-filled innings will assist solidifying the back-end of the rotation.

Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Josh Tomlin will anchor the top, and finding a consistent “four” will help push this team over the top.

1. Find a legitimate power hitter

The Tribe was a different team when they hit the long ball this season. The problem was, they did not have anyone who constantly added that threat in the starting lineup.

To win games, you have to be able to provide the threat of hitting the ball out of the yard. The Indians did not provide enough of that.

Outside of when Travis Hafner can stay healthy and an emerging Santana, Cleveland does not provide a true raw power threat. Finding a bat with 30 to 35 home run potential will take this lineup to a respectable level.

Does that include a Prince Fielder? Probably not. But someone the level of a Carlos Pena could certainly make a great deal of sense.

Pondering Option on Carmona

By: T.J. Zuppe

Indians fans have grown to know two distinct things about pitcher Fausto Carmona; there is good Fausto, and there is bad Fausto.

With the 2011 season winding down, the Wahoo faithful have been seeing a lot more of the bad, bordering on unwatchable Fausto. His alter-ego has faded into a distant memory.

For a while, due to the question marks surrounding the rotation in 2012, it seemed cooler heads would prevail regarding Carmona’s future with the Indians. Possibly some time away from watching his frustrating style, paired with the fact that he still has youth on his side would keep the Chief Wahoo on his hat for the time being.

However, as 2011 has closed out, his option next year looks less and less appetizing.

Under his current contract, the Indians hold club options for the next three seasons. In the offseason, the Tribe could decide to keep the soon-to-be 28-year old righty at roughly seven million dollars.

After a sluggish start to this season, where he posted a 5.98 ERA in his first 16 starts, Carmona seemed to make that option a no-brainer. He settled into a grove between June 26th and August 22nd, posting an ERA of 2.62 over nine starts.

Indians Pitcher Fausto Carmona

The team won five of those games.

Then the world came crumbling down around him. In the next six starts that followed, Carmona has been nothing short of abysmal. He has surrendered 29 runs in that period, in just 31 innings of work.

He also walked 13, compared to just 18 strike outs.

That includes Tuesday’s first game of a double-header with the White Sox, where he worked six innings, allowing three runs on seven hits. However, he did pitch well enough to give his team a chance at victory, as he picked up the win, in the 4-3 ballgame.

It has been that maddening nature of his outings that has plagued him his entire career with Cleveland. When he reaches a point where he begins to build on positives, he regresses into a helpless state where outs are tough to come by.

He battles through some contests, as he did Tuesday, providing hope for his next outing. Then, the Hyde to his Jekyll emerges and situations get nuclear.

“Overall, he has been up and down,” Indians manager Manny Acta said of his starter this season. “I think he’s got good enough stuff to be better than that.”

This would be easy to accept from a first or second year hurler, not so from player ready to enter his seventh season in the big leagues. It is no longer just a small trend, it is the norm.

However, his manager did note one element in his favor.

“He’s very durable,” he added. “He’s pretty consistent with taking the ball every five days.”

Even missing some time with injury this season, Carmona is nearing 400 innings over the past two seasons. His ability to be a workload monster is arguably his largest strength.

Yet, if the team truly hopes to compete with the big boys next season, relying on Carmona is becoming a tougher option for success. The club must consider moving in a different direction and finding more consistency in the back of the rotation.

To come to this conclusion, the front office must ask themselves the question; in the heat of a playoff race in September and October, do you feel comfortable with the right-handed starter on the hill? Are you willing to play a game of chance on which Fausto will appear?

At this point, it is really difficult to argue yes to either question.

When the dust settles, it is still hard to see the team moving forward without him in 2012. At seven million, with a flexible contract, odds are good the team will take the large risk on bringing him back for another go.

Largely, this will be decided by what veterans the team can chase in free agency and via trades. If the team feels good about the pitching market, cutting ties with the former ace will be easier than expected.

But it is very likely that next year’s campaign will be Carmona’s very last to prove his worth. If we see the same inconsistencies in the early stages, he will be greeted with a quick hook and shaking heads.

He cannot skate by on youth and promise any longer.

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